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Sreten Lazarevic, Dragan Stanojevic, Mile Markovic, and Slobodan Ostojic, all former members of the reserve forces of the Zvornik Public Security Station, PSS, were convicted in September 2008 of committing war crimes against civilians.
But one year later, after the defence teams appealed the verdicts on grounds of criminal and procedural code violations, the Appellate Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina overturned the convictions stating that, the trial panel had established the state of facts incorrectly and erroneously, and that the contested verdict contains erroneous inferences on decisive facts.
The four defendants had been sentenced to a combined 27 years in prison for taking part in the beatings of prisoners from May 1992 to March 1993 held at detention facilities located at the Municipal Misdemeanor Court and DP Novi Izvor buildings in Zvornik.
Halilovic, then a 60-year-old construction worker from Zvornik, testified for the prosecution about events he witnessed as a detainee at Novi Izvor from May 1992 until February 1993.
At the heart of Halilovics testimony was a diary he says he kept during his detention. In the diary, Halilovic says that he did not see Lazarevic, who was originally the Deputy Prison Warden for the facility at the Court for Misdemeanors and later at Novi Izvor, beat prisoners. The diary also vindicates former prison guards Mile Markovic and Slobodan Ostojic, but says that someone called Big Dragan did beat prisoners.
However Halilovic, who testified that he has suffered seven strokes since his detention, could not say with certainty if Stanojevic, also a former guard at Novi Izvor, was Big Dragan.
After the Appellate Court completed the video review of Halilovics testimony, the proceedings nearly came to a halt when Stanojevics Defense Counsel, Milos Peric, filed a motion asking for the testimony of four additional witnesses from the first trial to be replayed in open court. Peric said he filed the motion because he felt the evidence presented during the retrial was slanted in the prosecutions favor and had cast his client in a negative light.
I have the impression the evidence was presented as if the prosecutors office had appealed the case, Peric said.
Presiding Judge Mirza Jusufovic then assured Peric of the courts impartiality and said a thorough review of other testimony could take place either in open court or in closed proceedings. But with summer break and a busy fall schedule for the court looming, he expressed concern that reviewing additional testimony in open court could be accomplished in a timely manner.
Peric subsequently withdrew the motion.
At the end of the proceedings, State Prosecutor Bodizarka Dodik submitted an amendment to the indictment, seeking to remove the charges the defendants were acquitted of in the first verdict. Dodik says she filed the motion because the prosecutors office could no longer represent an indictment that contained charges no longer under consideration.
The first instance verdict acquitted Lazarevic of charges that he slapped a prisoner at Novi Izvor on an undetermined date. The trial panel also dismissed charges that he accepted 5,000 DM from three prisoners held at the Misdemeanor Court building on May 19, 1992 and charges that Lazarevic allowed Serbian soldiers known as the Gogicevci into the Misdemeanor Court building to force two brothers to fight each other while their father watched.
The first instance verdict also acquitted Markovic on charges that he helped beat a prisoner in September 1992 being held at Novi Izvor. Ostojic was acquitted of taking part in the beating of a group of prisoners at Novi Izvor in July 1992. Meanwhile, charges that Stanojevic beat a prisoner with his police baton on an unspecified date were also rejected.
Any decision on the motion to amend the indictment will not be made until after closing arguments in the case begin on August 31. An extra day for closing arguments has also been added for the following September 7 to ensure that the defence has sufficient time to present its arguments.B.G.